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Critics lash out at council

Clarence Valley Council general manager Scott Greensill.
Clarence Valley Council general manager Scott Greensill. Contributed

DEVELOPERS and surveyors in the region have taken swipes at the Clarence Valley Council with Maclean-based developer Andrew Baker describing the current state of the local economy as a "council-induced financial crisis".

Grafton surveyors Andrew Fletcher and Jim O'Donohue have also slammed what they describe as CVC's obstructive and unsupportive attitude to development.

Among the problems listed by them are: unfriendly attitudes at meetings, poorly written and incorrect consent conditions due to "copy and paste" methods employed by officers, slow development application processing, unnecessary study requirements early in the planning stages, the loading up of developers with council costs and the ignorance of councillors to many of these issues.

Both surveyors said many people in the development industry simply copped council's "illogical" decisions on the chin rather than make a noise about it through fear of it impacting badly on their future plans and relationship with council.

But both said they had had enough of it and it was time to speak up.

Clarence Valley Council general manager Scott Greensill hit back at suggestions officers would favour developers who didn't air their grievances publicly.

"There's no place for retribution and in the absence of any evidence to support this claim the suggestion is professionally offensive," he said.

He further defended CVC against each of the listed issues including: the need for council to carefully consider development applications so ratepayers were not left with costs and problems in the future and the democratic and legal right for development objections to be heard.

"We acknowledge that some consents have in the past contained superfluous conditions and we have provided training for staff in writing conditions," Mr Greensill said.

He said council had more than developers to concern itself with.

"Council is expected to act for the community as a whole including developers, neighbours and all other sections of the community."

Below is the full list of complaints from Mr Fletcher and Mr O'Donohue followed by the full CVC response from Mr Greensill.

 

1.       Negative vibes and unfriendly attitudes developers experience at pre-DA (DMU) meetings whereby it seems staff are pre-occupied with what they can find to place obstacles in the way or to either make the project difficult or costly.

2.       Poorly written, inappropriate and clearly incorrect consent conditions. Part of the problem here, both surveyors say, is the copy and pasting that takes place rather than writing specific conditions to suit each development - eg the need to provide connection to sewer mains in areas that have no sewer mains.

3.       The time it takes to get DAs approved. "Council's claim of 20 something days on average to determine a DA is absolute rubbish and everyone in the industry knows so," said Mr O'Donohue.  Both surveyors spoke of the too and fro of the DA process where council could take a month to request additional information,  then that information is provided and then further additional information is requested. "It's not unusual for this to happen two or three times," Mr Fletcher said. "It's very, very annoying, as well as very frustrating for our clients"

4.       The amount of information required for approval of subdivisions - eg full flood studies, road and drainage design, as well as traffic studies and ecological flora and fauna studies.  Mr Fletcher suggests that conditional consent should be granted in many cases to allow developers to have certainty. Detail such as this should be sought at construction stage.  

5.       Though Mr Fletcher preferred not to comment on this issue, Mr O'Donohue said council often unfairly loaded developers with costs that should be councils.

6.       Both surveyors said they didn't believe the elected representatives were aware of these and several other issues of concern and that most developers, engineers and surveyors simply copped council's "illogical decisions" on the chin for fear of possible retribution.

7.   A great deal of frustration also arises out of Council and staff not being consistent. For example, many ratepayers would not be aware that hundreds of homes in the Clarence Valley are listed in the Office of Environment & Heritage website under Section 2 'Local Councils & Shires and State Government Agencies' (listed by Council) which places restrictions on what can and can't be done in terms of maintenance and improvements to those dwellings - dwellings which may be of common fibro or weatherboard 1950s construction. Then, as a complete contradiction, Council cement renders and paints the beautiful old red brick amenities buildings in McKittrick and Fisher Parks replacing the valuable old ceramic tile roof with modern colourbound. Where is the consistency in that? It seems a blatant case of don't do what I do but do as I say, says Mr O'Donohue.  

CVC response from Mr Greensill

1.      Councils development control staff (planners, building surveyors, development engineers) are vitally interested in development because it what they do for a living. If there is no development then their positions with Council would not be needed.

 

Most subdivisions involve the construction of assets such as roads, drains, water and sewer lines which are then handed to Council (ie the local community) to maintain. If they aren't constructed correctly, the community bears the future cost of additional maintenance and in some cases, replacement. It's the responsibility of development control staff to make sure future public assets are built properly. As far as being negative goes, it is pretty hard to be positive about poor development proposals and as the body entrusted to regulate development standards our staff simply tell it as it is. The truth is that sometimes this is not what the developer may want to hear.

2.      We acknowledge that some consents have in the past contained superfluous conditions and we have provided training for staff in writing conditions. As a general rule, the better the quality of the application, the less conditions. Any uncertainty with a DA usually requires additional conditions.

3.      Our average DA processing time in 2011/12 was 33 days. Land and Property Surveyors generally prepare subdivision applications which tend to be more complex than, for instance, houses and so take longer. If valid objections are received an application must be reported to Council for determination.

Individuals who raise concerns or objections about applications also have the democratic and legal right to be heard.

If all the necessary information is submitted with an application, further information isn't required and processing is faster.  98% of developments applications were determined under delegated authority without the need for Council involvement.

It is important to realise that whilst DA process times are used as a performance measure of Councils, each DA has to be treated on its merits and process times as such can vary considerably. Factors such as the quality of the application and information provided and the extent to which external bodies are required to be consulted all can contribute significantly to the process time required.

Rushed and poorly considered planning decisions can create unwanted precedents, legacies and cost for the community to contend with for many years into the future.  

4.      Some information such as flora and fauna studies, flood studies are legally required and must be provided. Other information is required so all parties - developer, Council and neighbours, know exactly what is going to be developed and that it will work. Conditioning a consent to require a future flora and fauna study benefits no one if it subsequently can't be approved as a result of that study.

5.      If Council does not require the developer to pay for the costs associated with their development, then it will be Council (i.e. the community) that would have to meet the costs. The developer is doing the development for financial gain so why should the community bear a private developer's costs.

6.      Council works with developers and consultants on a daily basis. Consultants do their best to represent their clients, we do our best to represent our community. If there are disagreements, we work it out and if we can't, Councillors may make the decision. There's no place for retribution and in the absence of any evidence to support this claim the suggestion is professionally offensive.

Most consultants, including those mentioned, often raise their concerns to Councillors and as such elected members would be aware of many of the issues raised.

Council has to work with all parties and stakeholders in order to achieve an outcome.

7.      Every house and building on the heritage list was specifically approved by our Councillors.  The design of park buildings considers the heritage of the local area and an example is the new Sports Pavilion at Fisher Park that was initially developed in consultation with the community and sports groups.   The redesign and renovation of local amenities to provide accessible facilities considers local heritage values.

Topics:  business, clarence valley council, development, economy, scott greensill


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